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Urban Legend: Is Combat in Cities Really Inevitable?

Image courtesy of Jason Hull/DVIDS

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 7 May 2019.

Future combat will take place in dense urban areas and likely in megacities, or so we are told. These are the new “truths” that are taking hold in the U.S. military. According to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who is likely the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “In the future, I can say with very high degrees of confidence, the American Army is probably going to be fighting in urban areas.” Gen. Stephen Townsend, commanding general of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, took it a step further: “[W]e’re going to see battle in megacities and there’s little way to avoid it.” For its part, the Marine Corpsis beginning a multi-year experiment on enhancing urban operations. A recent solicitation by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory notes: “The experiment provides warfighters the opportunity to assess the operational utility of emerging technologies and engineering innovations … for sensing, speed of decision/action and lethality in dense urban environments.” Finally, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein stresses that because Milley and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller are emphasizing urban warfare, “we’ve got to focus on urban warfare … Wherever they go, so goes the Air Force. … We go as a joint team.”

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A Kinder, Gentler Army?

Sigmund Freud's sofa / Photo: Konstantin Binder, Wikipedia

Sigmund Freud's sofa / Photo: Konstantin Binder, Wikipedia

For some reason I thought this practice was already in place, but the US Army has announced that it is starting an obligatory “emotional resiliency” program for its troops.

According to the NY Times the program is meant to head off the plethora of mental health issues soldiers bring back with them from their tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The move comes after the military has faced criticism for failing to provide proper care for its troops, which some say has led to an “epidemic of suicides” due to post-traumatic stress disorder and what’s termed ‘Gulf War syndrome.’

The weekly, 90-minute sessions will involve exercises in which participants will examine methods “to defuse or expose common habits of thinking and flawed beliefs that can lead to anger and frustration — for example, the tendency to assume the worst.”

Off topic comment: That’s not just needed for the military.

In an atmosphere in which a person is formed into, for all intents and purposes, a killing machine, this type of program is/was sorely needed. But it does go against the normal military culture; one of bravery, manliness and keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of danger, or worse.

“Psychology has given us this whole language of pathology, so that a soldier in tears after seeing someone killed thinks, ‘Something’s wrong with me; I have post-traumatic stress,’ ” or P.T.S.D., Dr. Seligman said. “The idea here is to give people a new vocabulary, to speak in terms of resilience. Most people who experience trauma don’t end up with P.T.S.D.; many experience post-traumatic growth.”

And perhaps give a new definition to “bravery.”